“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”
-Randy Alcorn (author of Heaven)
I recently lost a very dear friend and running partner to a mountain climbing accident.[i] Roy Lambertson’s abrupt departure left a painful void in my life. Seeing the news about the devastating accident while scanning my email during a break at work completely stymied me. I was frozen in place, trying to contemplate this unthinkable tragedy.
It can’t be. But it was. Roy was gone. Our running community would never be the same without him. It was an agonizing pill for me to swallow. I sat hunched over like a stone statue for longer than I can remember as I contemplated this new reality to try and make sense of it. As Roy said himself, Life is not fair. Nothing reinforced Roy’s words more than his premature departure.
Death is a difficult topic for all of us, no matter the circumstances. Nobody wants to stare it in the face. I used to be scared to death of dying (pun intended). It was a real phobia that I called “lights out,” meaning that life was over, and nothing came after it. I can remember thinking of the lights going off and never coming back on when I was alone in my bedroom as a young kid. It was the end of the book with no more pages to read. No memories, no nothing. Just contemplating that thought gave me the heebie-jeebies.
Becoming a Christian did not suddenly remove that “lights out” fear. It wasn’t as if I could just hit the delete button on my computer and remove that thought once I accepted Jesus into my life. It hung around for a while. As I studied the Bible and started to pray regularly, God slowly began to unfold His plan for my life.
Through that process, over several years, the lights began to come on, although it was more of a dimmer switch effect. Very slowly, the light washed out the darkness in my room. Understanding that death was simply a door I must go through to begin my eternal life in heaven was an awakening. That door was the beginning of my immortal life to come. I came to see how the day I die will really be the best day of my life!
This idea of “beginning with the end in mind” has dramatically changed how I live my life today. Allow me to explain.
Let’s say that you went to the doctor for an annual check-up and they told you that you had a terminal illness with one year to live. Beyond the obvious, what changes would you make in your life? How would your thoughts and actions be impacted? Would you live that final year more authentic to yourself? Are there items you would check off your bucket list?
New York Times best-selling author Lori Gottlieb wrote in her book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, about a client who had this exact script played out in her life with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Against her family’s wishes, she decided to fulfill a life-long dream of going to work at Trader Joe’s during that final year of her life. A job at Trader Joe’s had been on top of her bucket list. That hit my sweet spot.
The more profound question this discussion pries into is whether you are living your life in a manner that truly reflects your values and beliefs? Steven Covey offered another approach to this in his best-selling book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In Habit #2, “Begin With the End in Mind,” Covey asked his readers to do a visualization exercise where they attended their own funeral and wrote the speech of four people who would speak about their life. What do you want them to say? This goes beyond checking off the bucket list. How would they describe you as a person? Is it in tune with how you are living?
This storyline is an excellent self-reflection exercise for my coaching clients; it can strike home like a lightning bolt to the true inner-self. It prompts you to immediately ask whether the things you are writing (about what they would say at your funeral) are a reflection of who you want to be. A simple conversation at the coffee station at work can take on significant meaning once you consider that person is speaking at your funeral. It powerfully demonstrates how you view your life and gets you to rethink your priorities.
You get a reinvigorated perspective on your life by contemplating your death.
The next question, however, is even weightier.
Suppose you do die. The odds are about 100%.
I am planning for that to be the best day of my life. I’m going surfing! In heaven.
Let’s delve into how I believe that could happen. I want to start by first acknowledging that God’s promise of heaven and the wonder of what awaits us there are beyond what our minds can imagine.[ii] He has mapped out an eternal destination that defies logic as we understand it today in our earthly, physical existence. What God has arranged is beyond us. It is a mystery of God’s design for us even to try and understand heaven.
That being understood, heaven has been a watershed for me. It has turned the tide in my life on how I view my death. Understanding God’s promises around heaven in the Bible gave me a clear vision of where I was going when I die. My focus now is to spend my remaining time on earth preparing for that day when I can paddle out in heaven. Priorities have changed. The work-life balance conundrum is resolved. This life is simply a dress rehearsal to prepare me for that eternal ride home. I intend to make sure my surfboard is fully waxed up when I get there.
I realize many may question the truth and accuracy of what the Bible says. That is OK! My journey started in the same place. Come along for the ride and hear me out.
Surfing in heaven is a game-changer. Think of it as a long tube ride that gives you a renewed perspective on your life. You will exit that barrel a different person. The back spray will lighten your load like nothing you have ever encountered. When you finally do kick out, you will know where you are headed.
How I Got Here
It behooves me to include in this discussion on heaven a brief explanation of how I became a Christian. Of course, this all started there.
Thirty-three years into life, while launching my technology career at ROLM in the late 1980s, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and began to study the Bible. Since making that decision, I have been on a walk of continual growth and wonder about God’s plan for my life. The most meaningful change for me was accepting God’s control over my life. Although I fight the urge to grab the steering wheel every day, I am slowly learning how it all is ultimately in His hands.
I pray every day to have a clearer vision of God’s plan for me. That does not mean life has been without its storms. At times, my faith has wavered. Yet, having God to turn to has made all the difference in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
This journey started when I woke up one Sunday morning in 1988 and went to church. It was that simple. God did not make it really clear to me why I was going. I had no idea what I was in for; I just felt prompted to go. My Baja surfing partner, John Park, went to church regularly, so I showed up on his doorstep at the appointed time on Sunday morning in a suit and tie.
I will never forget Johnny opening the door and bursting into laughter when he saw my formal attire. In Newport Beach, an aloha shirt, shorts, and flip-flops were more appropriate. Seeing his reaction, I was embarrassed beyond words, yet I managed to pull it together and go anyway. I’d be lying to say it all fell into place from there. It was actually quite uncomfortable at first, especially singing songs I did not know and reading Bible verses I had never heard. It was a gradual process over several years. I was blessed beyond description to have Godly men and women to lead me by example through it all.
Maybe I am losing some of you who view the Bible as out-of-touch with today’s world. I completely understand; I was right there with you. I had zero understanding of what I was in for when I decided to follow Jesus. Yet, I fret in wonder about where I would be today had I not taken that first step.
Two years later God brought Marla into my life, and we were newly married and moving to Silicon Valley in 1990 to work at ROLM. We became active in church and Bible studies in Palo Alto (Peninsula Bible Church). Marla introduced me to Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), which became the key to the safe of deep treasures that awaited me within the Bible. BSF is a remarkable worldwide organization that led me on an enthralling path of self-discovery to draw close to God’s Word and His plan for our salvation.
As I grew in my knowledge of the truths of Scripture, heaven became a topic of great interest. I could never seem to quench my thirst to learn more about it. Belief in the spectacular wonder of what God has waiting for us was a thunderclap of awakening in my faith. Whenever the word “heaven” appeared, my interest was aroused to dig deeper.
While Christians accept heaven as a part of our journey of faith, my experience was that they don’t often spend time talking about or studying it. It was clear that heaven was the end-goal for all Christians, yet it remained a mystery, not discussed in-depth in sermons or Bible studies. Heaven seemed to be the crucial point to understanding the Bible from my view. God placed a deep-rooted desire in my heart to get the word out about this world to come and what it will be like living there.
Surfing in Heaven
The idea of Surfing in Heaven first came to me amidst the billowy Sierra Nevada alpine clouds covering Lake Tahoe in 2004. Our family was attending a Mount Hermon family camp at Zephyr Cove (south shore), and René Schlaepfer (pastor at Twin Lakes Church in Santa Cruz) led us in a five-day series on the topic of heaven.
Each day René was building the story of our eternal home as he guided us through the scriptures on the reality of what it would be like. He was the first person I heard to describe heaven as an actual physical place where we would spend eternity with God doing many, if not all, of the things we do here on earth. He never veered off Scripture as he described a world that could never exceed the delight of our imagination in what it promises. I remember him telling us to let our imaginations run on what this new world would be like:
“Ask God to help you think accurately and inspirationally of the new heaven and the new earth that awaits! “
As I was gazing out the windows onto Lake Tahoe’s brilliant deep blue waters amidst the granite peaks surrounding, a ray of light broke through a large cloud to illuminate an inspirational thought. Could there be surfing when I get to heaven? My gears were suddenly churning. Why not? An ocean with waves and sandy beaches seemed to fit perfectly with what René was describing.
I was stoked as I fantasized about what that could mean. With my eyes fixed on the ray of light on Lake Tahoe’s massive body of water, a manifestation of heavenly surfing appeared in my head. It was as if I was watching a huge set of perfectly-shaped waves rolling in at Zephyr Cove as I gaped beyond the window onto Lake Tahoe.
René’s detailed descriptions of the new world to come allowed me to envision how surfing could very much be a part of my experience when I get there. The perfect wave I had been searching for was coming into view! I was frantically scribbling graffiti notes into my Palm Pilot, trying to catch every word as René moved through the final book of the Bible,[iii] describing how heaven will come down to reside on a “renewed” earth as its final resting place.
Staring out over the grandeur of Lake Tahoe’s mountainous setting, it was hard to comprehend what God might do to renew such a magnificently beautiful lake. Projecting that restoration onto the earth’s many bodies of water was beyond my imagination. Surfing seemed to make absolute sense on our renewed earth.
The more I discovered, the more I needed to know. What would my body be like? How big would the waves be? Will there be sand and rocks? How about sea life and plants? What temperature would the water be? Salt water or fresh water? Was a giant wave machine in lake Tahoe out of the question? Would I surf with my dad? The questions were endless. If I was going to heaven for an eternity, I had to know more.
What would my opening day in heaven be like?
Epilogue on Roy Lambertson:
Among his many talents, Roy Lambertson was a wonderfully gifted writer. Sometimes he liked to combine writing with his witty humor. I miss those clever emails he would send to us, soliciting interest in joining him on a run. More often than not, the runs ended up being a lot more than we bargained for. Roy knew how to surprise you when you least expected it.
On “April Fools” day in 2018, he sent out an email with a purported story from the New York Times (Mark Landler) about me winning the Mavericks Big Wave Contest. It looked like the real thing. I’m not sure what prompted him to do that. I am guessing that he simply decided a good joke was due. God bless him; when I read it, I felt as if I had actually done it!
I include it below as both a tribute to Roy and a vision of how good I think we could have it while surfing in Heaven. Thanks for the inspiration, Roy. I am now working on my headstands.
From Roy Lamberston (unedited):
62-year-old surfer wins Mavericks Surf Contest
By MARK LANDLER 1:46 PM ET
Against all odds, a 62-year-old man has pulled off the unimaginable: Winning the Mavericks Surf Contest in Half Moon Bay, California. Due to the fickle nature of West Coast surf, the contest had to be delayed to its latest date ever, March 30th. But Mother Nature did not disappoint in the end — an incoming storm system brought in huge swells that produced monster waves topping 45 feet in height. And the oldest competitor ever to qualify for the contest, riding a hand-shaped 11-foot balsawood longboard, bested the young professional surfers to emerge from the waves victorious.
Michael Mulkey, 62, walked away from the beach with a trophy and $20,000 in prize money, as proof that he had seriously schooled the young bucks. Mulkey was incredulous: “Are you kidding me? At my age, just showing up at the starting line is an achievement.” But no one doubted that the former software industry executive deserved the prize. He distinguished himself by catching what many thought was one of the largest waves of the day, a nearly 50-foot monster that most surfers would find to be the stuff of nightmares. Mulkey was up on his board in a flash and reached speeds of at least 40 MPH flying down the nearly vertical face. As the wave curled and, despite its monstrous size, became tubular, the crowd feared that all was lost as Mulkey disappeared behind the leading edge. But a cheer erupted ten seconds later as they caught sight of him emerging from the collapsing tube in fine form, hanging ten and giving a “hang loose” hand signal. As the wave ran out into turbulent white foam, he offered up a headstand on the board.
Mulkey was nearly a complete unknown in the surfing world until this season, though he has been “kicking ass and taking names” in running races for over four decades, according to amateur athletes. He is expected to win his division in next month’s Boston Marathon. “Mike is an inspiring guy,” noted longtime friend Lewis Deetz. “He can paddle through anything. And he even got me to run a marathon once. Boy, that was a mistake.” Mulkey has not gone completely unnoticed by high-profile surfers though. Legendary wave rider Laird Hamilton commented, “I knew Mike had it in him. He taught me everything I know, not just about surfing, but about life.” And “Soul Surfer” Bethany Hamilton joked, “I’d give my other arm to surf as well as Mike!”
Mulkey has proven to be something of a Maverick himself, a prankster with a penchant for noisemakers and fireworks. The tabloids are now linking the sexagenarian romantically to both actress Charlize Theron and mixed-martial arts champion Ronda Rousey. But longtime acquaintances note that he has in fact been happily married for over 25 years.
When asked to comment on whether he can keep up with the Kenyans at Boston in a few weeks, Mulkey replied, “You are killing me.” But some sports pundits feel that an overall first-place finish is not out of the question for the surprising late bloomer.
[i] See my blog “That’s not fair …” on surfingforbalance.com/blog
[ii] 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV):
“However, as it is written: What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
[iii] Revelation Chapter 21